We've started this series with a bunch of players on the rise. Blake Swihart jumped five spots, Henry Owens two. Rafael Devers' debut earned him a full 15 rungs on the ladder, Manuel Margot went from 13 to 5, and Brian Johnson from 16 to 6. The only one who didn't move up is Eduardo Rodriguez, and that's because he wasn't even in the system last year.
But for Garin Cecchini, coming in at number seven is a step (or four) back. And while it would be nice to pretend that's just because all the players around him improved dramatically, that's not the case.
To this point, Cecchini's struggles were never about performance, but health, and after missing out on major portions of seasons past, the former fourth-round pick looked to have put those problems behind him. 2013 saw Cecchini play 129 games between Salem and Portland, performing exceptionally with the former and more than holding his own after being promoted to Double-A. He came into 2014 on the verge of being a top-50 prospect in all of baseball.
Pawtucket, however, proved unusually challenging for the third baseman. After starting off the season looking more or less like his usual self, reaching base at a .400 clip in April, Cecchini seemed to come unglued. A May slump turned into a June tailspin, broken up only by a one-game MLB debut which saw him pick up a double in just two trips to the plate. That didn't help turn Cecchini around, however, and by July he had reached an all-time low, hitting just .188/.268/.313. There was no sign of the prospect who had been one of the system's best contact bats in years gone by.
If the story ended there, we probably wouldn't be talking about Cecchini just yet. He might not show up until we're in double digits territory. Big league players get more benefit of the doubt, but when a minor leaguer goes so completely off the rails, there's every chance they've simply hit their limit.
Thankfully for Cecchini, there were still two months left for him to provide some hope. And in those months we saw the old Cecchini once more. He hit .333/.413/.500 for the PawSox in August, was a steady on-base threat for them in the postseason, and hit to a .767 OPS with the Red Sox in his first extended major league stint in September.
It was not enough to make up for an otherwise disappointing season. For the first time in his career, Cecchini was not able to get his bat on the ball with any great consistency. His strikeout rate--never higher than 17.6% in years past--spiked all the way to 21.6% with Pawtucket, and remained a problem even in August and September when his production started to improve. His ability to make contact is what makes Garin Cecchini a real prospect. He doesn't have the power to really produce at a high level without a high volume of hits, and his plate discipline will count for little if he can't punish pitchers for throwing in the zone.
His place within the organization is also in question after the acquisition of Pablo Sandoval. In fact, that's a move which likely has quite a bit to do with Cecchini's season. In a world where Cecchini dominates the first half of a season, gets called up for good, and proves himself capable in a few months this past summer, maybe the Red Sox feel confident having him at third base in 2015. But after a year like this, it would have been downright negligent to enter the season relying on Cecchini to play a major role on the team, leading the Sox to turn to free agency and Sandoval.
Now it's anyone's best guess where Cecchini ends up. He's gotten some time in the outfield, but the Red Sox are full there as well. He does not have a traditional first base bat, either. It's possible there's just no place for Cecchini on this team in the near future.
That doesn't mean he's not important, though. Injuries happen, and so do trades. Cecchini was on the verge of being a top-50 prospect after 2013, and with a big 2015, he can push his way back into the upper echelons. But for now, until he shows he can still put the bat on the ball the way he did in the lower levels, he's absolutely in "prove it" territory.
- Blake Swihart, C
- Henry Owens, LHP
- Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP
- Rafael Devers, 3B
- Manuel Margot, OF
- Brian Johnson, LHP
- Garin Cecchini, 3B